Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Cyclists, walkers need to use caution as debris lingers from Irma

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 9/27/17

Hurricane Irma made recreational and exercise cycling a challenge, especially in the first days and weeks after its impact.

Downed trees, pathways and bike lanes were blocked, there were tire-flattening hazards everywhere and service vehicles peppering the roadways created quite the obstacles for those seeking to get their regular rides in.

For those using their bikes as transportation it was the same story. However, in the early hours and even days after Irma hit it was actually easier to overcome the obstacles on a bike than in other vehicles. The same was true for those walking for a purpose — versus exercise or recreation. Traversing fallen trees and debris to check on neighbors was possible on foot, but not by motor vehicle.

With fewer motor vehicles on the roads right after the storm, walking and biking were relatively safe, at least for a little while. Once cars and trucks returned the dynamics changed drastically. Being on the roads in the days before traffic signals were back up and running was dicey for anyone, whether in a car, on a bike or on foot.

A tree hangs precariously on a power line along North Colonial Trail after Irma. DAN MOSER / FLORIDA WEEKLY

Appropriately, roads were the first priority and cleared as soon as possible.

I witnessed crews from public works removing large downed trees at 1 a.m. while still dealing with Irma’s rain and wind. Especially early on, sidewalks and bike paths were turned into debris storage areas, something to be expected in the initial clean-up stage.

Public works folks did a good job of reopening many sidepaths soon after the road-clearing phase.

And much to my pleasant surprise, in the days following Irma, most residents placed debris from their property off the sidewalk, allowing pedestrian and bicycle traffic to pass. Unfortunately, this practice was not universal (some had no choice but to place debris on sidewalks) and some folks selfishly blocked — and continued to obstruct — pedestrian paths with their vehicles merely for their own convenience.

Sidewalks broken or heaved-up by fallen tree roots will take a while to be replaced and repaired. In some locations, where there’s no other place to pile debris, sidepaths will be impassible until it’s picked-up. For those needing to get around by bike or foot it’ll be a challenge for quite some time in some areas. Those with mobility issues will be especially impacted. Time and money will eventually lead to things getting back to normal, at least in neighborhoods where adequate infrastructure exists.

In the bigger picture of bike and pedestrian access, events such as Hurricane Irma highlight the fact that there’s a lot to be desired in neighborhoods where residents depend on their feet, bicycles and transit as their primary transportation where infrastructure is lacking.

In Lee County, where our transit service is less than adequate but nonetheless available, safe and easy access to it is critical. As is the case with transit in general, the “first mile/last mile” (FM/ LM) is a term used by professionals and advocates that refers to the primary obstacle to people’s access to a transit stop. In reality, the average distance one should have to walk to a transit stop is ¼ mile, but that’s usually not the case in a place with marginal transit service such as in Southwest Florida. So we’re closer to the literal FM/LM than others. That being the case, there’s quite a problem with that in many transit-dependent neighborhoods in Lee County due to lack of infrastructure.

During this time of hurricane recovery, few people want to think about transportation inequity, unless, of course, you’re experiencing it yourself now as well as before and after the storm recovery.

It’s not about walking, running or riding a bike for exercise or recreation that’s at issue here — although those reasons are important, too — but more about basic access and transportation options. For more about transportation equity, visit BikeWalkLee’s blog at and Streets Alive at¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (; Florida Mudcutters (; and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group ( The Florida Bicycle Association ( is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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